Ten years ago, in the midst of the financial crisis, the American Bar Association created the National Celebration of Pro Bono, a week dedicated to recognizing pro bono attorneys and growing pro bono participation. Ohio attorneys such as Michael Sermersheim heeded the call to action, and volunteered legal help to those affected by the financial crisis, including Ohioans in danger of losing their homes.
“I had always felt the tug of pro bono work throughout my career, but I had a concern about the unknown,” Sermersheim said. “Community Legal Aid provided the training I needed to start taking on foreclosure cases.”
While the economy is much improved since 2009, there remains a substantial need for legal services for the more than 2.2 million Ohioans who qualify for civil legal aid. As the Tenth Annual Celebration of Pro Bono launches Oct. 21, private attorneys remain crucial to Ohio’s legal aids, who depend on volunteer service to help meet the civil legal needs of Ohioans struggling to make ends meet.
“Only lawyers solve legal problems,” said Angie Lloyd, executive director of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation. “Through pro bono work, attorneys can make a life-changing difference for Ohio’s children, seniors, veterans, and families.”
Pro bono service can be as simple as volunteering at a brief advice clinic or it can involve accepting a case for extended representation. Throughout the process, volunteers can count on Ohio’s legal aids for training, mentoring, and support.
“Legal aid provides a wealth of resources for volunteers,” Sermersheim said. “When you don’t fully understand an area of the law, they are there to help and assist.”
Sermersheim was recently named Community Legal Aid’s 2018 Pro Bono Volunteer Attorney of the Year. He sticks with the work because he knows his efforts are making a difference.
“We get people that have faced hardships, and they feel that they’re not listened to or considered,” Sermersheim said. “They don’t have a voice in anything. Just giving them the time and the care is a kind gesture that is very helpful to them.”
Attorneys can search Ohio Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Opportunities Guide for clinics, trainings, and recognition events statewide throughout October. For information on volunteering year-round, contact the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation’s Pro Bono Director Sophia Chang.